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Phaneuf over-rated? Let’s not lose our heads…..

Sports Illustrated has been around forever.  (Well, not really forever...more like since the early to mid-1950s, I believe, but don’t depend on my memory on this one…)

I actually remember the first time I was able to get a subscription to Sports Illustrated.  It was exciting.  I was maybe 12 year-old.  I used to read sports magazines (Sport magazine, Hockey Illustrated, etc.) rather voraciously as a youngster—at least as many as my Dad could afford to buy for me.  In addition to my baseball and hockey card addiction, Dad, a man of very modest means (and with four other, older children—most headed toward or already embarked on/upon an expensive university education) loved sports, so he encouraged my interest.

It wasn’t exactly deep or heavy reading, but it kept me somewhat in the “know” about the teams and players I liked—the Packers, the Chicago White Sox (a story for another day) and of course, the Leafs.

In any event, I never threw the magazines out, or at least my mom thought that.  I was a pack rat like my Dad and kept just about everything.  One day I was reading through a magazine from years earlier and saw an ad for Sports Illustrated.  It was one of those old-style “tear-out” subscription cards.  I remember the price like it was yesterday:  27 issues for $1.97. ( No tax or anything in those days.)  I sent out the little postcard-type subscription cut-out in the mail, which probably cost me two or three cents in those days.  I must have used an envelope because I managed to locate one dollar and ninety-seven cents.  To be honest, I don’t recall if I just plunked a bunch of loose change in the envelope, or my mother gave me a cheque to cover the cost.  I’m pretty sure it was loose change.

I didn’t know if Sports Illustrated would even “honor” the rate offered, because the card was many years old.  (By the way, after all these years, I still don’t know whether I should spell words like honor with a “u” or not.  I’m Canadian but was born right across from Detroit.  Canadians and Americans spell it differently, right?)

Lo and behold, my first magazine came in the mail a few weeks later.  I felt like I had won something—27 issues for les than two dollars!  I was Warren Buffett in the making, eh?

An aside:  the first “cover” I got in the mail was in black and white, in the spring of either 1965 or ’66.  I say that because I remember that Gail Goodrich of UCLA was on the cover against Michigan (an action photo) in the NCAA college basketball championship game.  I think it was ’65….

But this all brings me to (I know, my stories are rarely short…) a piece which came out Wednesday, citing an NHL players poll about the most “overrated” players in the league.

Who was at the top of the list?  Our own beloved Dion Phaneuf.

My own reaction was that I was nonplussed.  Heck, if you had asked me before this season started, I’d have a hard-time arguing that Phaneuf wasn’t just living off his NHL (end-of-season, when it matters) All-Star year back in ’07, I think it was.  He was just OK last year, though injury played a role.  He wasn’t outstanding his last couple of seasons in Calgary.  With Toronto a season ago, he was a risk-taking, and often risk-losing, defenseman.

This year he is still in love with jumping into the play, but that is what the coaches seem to want, and more often than not he is still handling the requisite responsibilities in his own end as well.  He doesn’t run after guys as often, at least that’s how it seems to me.

So, while I’m not sure he is playing like he is  “the best in the league”, as Wilson loudly opined in the early days of the current season, he is a leader in terms of attitude, effort, ice-time and production on a Leaf time that has surprised a few people.

So Phaneuf probably was over-rated the last few years.  He still may not be an end-of-season All-Star defenseman, but he’s probably not far off the list.  If he’s still overrated, it’s likely because he was rated far too high in the first place.  He is a good hockey player, thriving in a tough market.

It is interesting, though, that some players did say he was over-rated.  We generally tend to believe players on other issues more than say, media people who follow teams, so we can’t just discount what players say.  But I’d like to know exactly when the “poll” was done, how many guys were asked (I just checked—161) and how many of those questioned actually face him regularly.  It’s hard not to believe a player like Phaneuf isn’t disliked by a number of opposing players, which might tilt the opinions, as well.

For his part, Brian Burke was on the radio shortly after the SI story "broke" and defended Dion, as any GM would.  

In any event, Phaneuf is in good company on the list.  Here are the rest of the names from the SI poll:
  1.  Dion Phaneuf
  2. Alex Ovechkin—I won’t debate this one.  I thought he was the most exciting thing on skates three years ago, with his mad dashes, highlight-reel skills and his pugnacious, somewhat audacious physicality.  But while he is still that guy some nights, numbers don’t completely lie.
  3. Scott Gomez—I’ll let those who still hate the Habs, and Gomez, fill in their own thoughts.
  4.  Roberto Luongo—Those who follow here will already know my views on Luongo.  And until he delivers a consistently stellar playoff performance, they will remain the same—regardless of what he ever does in the regular season.  You want to be paid like the best, as he had insisted before he signed his last contract?  You have to be the best.
  5. Dany Heatley-Fill in your punch-line here.  I’ve disliked this player for many years.
  6. Kovalchuk—I still love watching him play, but no one is worth what Lou is paying him.
  7. Vincent Lecavalier—He played his best hockey under Tortorella and led the Lightning to a Cup.  Not the same player since, I don’t think.
  8. Jay Bouwmeester—I will never understand how a guy with those skills and that apparent quiet determination could never be on a playoff team, in Junior hockey or the NHL.  It’s just not possible.  Someone who has followed his career more closely could fill me in.  I have no answer.
  9. Ryan Kesler—When I watch the Canucks and Kesler is healthy, he seems to be a difference-maker to me.  So what am I missing?
  10. Mike Komisarek—Hey, he wasn’t over-rated until he signed a big free-agent contract.  He was a respected defenseman that a lot of teams wanted.  I’m not sure he is rated very highly now so I doubt he should be considered “overrated”.
  11. Chris Pronger—Well, we know he is disliked by a lot of players (including teammates?).  And he’s awfully dirty.  Overrated?  Don’t know.  Teams he’s on seem to perform better, at least in the latter years of his career.
  12. Jarome Iginla—Wasn’t Iginla a deserving MVP not long ago?  Age, a struggling franchise, envy, slippage in his play probably all go into this rating.
  13. Alexander Semin-Should he not be higher on this list?  Hello KHL.
  14. Olli Jokinen—I liked Jokinen with the Panthers—less a fan in recent years.  I don’t see him enough know to know, frankly, whether he is a star, a former star or it just doesn’t matter anymore…
  15. Ed Jovanoski—I thought this had been agreed upon years ago.  That said, Florida is still getting points, somebody must be doing something right down there.
These lists are always fun, and fodder for talk shows and web sites and GM's like Burke.  Everybody probably has their own list, eh?

But Leaf fans shouldn’t worry about what the league’s players think about Phaneuf.  Let’s just worry about what we see with our own eyes.


  1. Vincent Lecavalier is the MICHAEL JORDAN of the NHL....circa his Washington yrs

  2. I think Greg Cronin said it best- you'd be better off calling it a list of the players you hate to play against the most.

  3. Thank you! It makes me want to fire off a letter to Sport's Illustrated and tell them to keep their mitts off of our captain. When a team starts playing well, it is worth looking at all that is seen and unseen. As Conn Smythe always said, "The heart and soul of any team rests with the captain." What we are seeing this season is uplifting. We cannot rate this new spirit highly enough. Your post today is one more good reason to keep on reading this blog.

  4. Thanks KidK....Cronin may be partially right. (Not sure someone like Semin would fit on that list...) May also have to do with some players simply being disliked....

  5. Elizabeth, thanks for dropping by the site. As a member of the Smythe family that built this wonderful legacy, you more than anyone can appreciate the history of the Leafs and what things like being a true captain mean. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. this list made me groan... my guess is dion has a big personality that rubs a lot of players the wrong way, so in turn they say he's the 'most overrated player' in the nhl. my guess is, just like in politics, it's a popularity contest, and a lot of these guys got the short-end of the stick (i mean come on! kesler????? i would love him to be on the leafs!).
    by the way, i'm impressed with your encyclopedic knowledge of your own life's history... i can't remember what i ate for dinner last night much less the magazines i ordered as a kid!

  7. Alex may well be right, that this has as much to do with personality/popularity than players really being overrated...

    Quick aside...I signed up on your site- hope it worked!

  8. I think salary plays a factor on this list but putting salary aside here are my dislikes on the list:

    Ovechkin, Iginla, Loungo, Kovalchuk, Pronger Kesler, Lecavalier, Komisarek, and Phaneuf are very good players. They have resumes and accolades to support they are good. The first 5 I listed don't have to prove anything to anyone. Kesler is very hard working and no one ever thought he would be a top 6 guy or even an offensive threat. Vinny has won a Stanley Cup and many international accomplishments. Phaneuf has been very successful at all levels and I think the bar was set high after his rookie season yet in terms of production from defensemen, all good. Komisarek was considered one of the better shutdown defensemen in the league, 1 bad last season in Montreal and a contract by Toronto has made him a "terrible player".

    J-Bo, Jokenin, Semin, Gomez, Heatley, and Jovo are effective players depending on expectations and the market they play in. J-Bo and Jokenin played in a weak Florida market and were some of the best among their group. Gomez and Jovo's best days are behind them, very hard to understand why the voter couldn't realize this yet an outsider like me can.

    Semin has been streaky his whole career and deserves his spot here. Heatley has been falling off and deserves to join Semin. Talent doesn't just disappear and these guys aren't old by any means so should still be producing.

  9. Solid post as always, Skill2Envy.

    Not many teams would not want Kesler, for example...or most of those guys for that matter.

  10. how about Philippe Dupuis? lol